BBC FOUR recently had a three-part TV series about 20th century classical music, The Sound and the Fury which, to me, knowing little about the subject, seemed good. So, inevitably, I’ve made a Spotify playlist of the works it mentioned.
This was a much longer and more tedious task than is warranted, and made me realise what a confusion the world of classical music is. Given that most works have been performed and recorded multiple times, I wanted to only pick versions that were well thought of (Spotify availability allowing). But, even if you can judge what the “best” release is, working out which of several albums feature that recording is tricky.
What if the same conductor and orchestra have recorded performances in different years? How do you tell which is which when Amazon only list the year the CD was released (or re-released)? Can you then square that information with Spotify whose metadata is reduced to Track/Artist/Album, a format suitable only for popular music (at best)?
Where Spotify had a choice of recordings for a work I’ve done my best to choose the one that is most well thought of, whether that’s judging by an authoritative sounding BBC review or simply a single comment on an Amazon listing. I should have kept track of the references, and whether the “best” version was available on Spotify or not, but I failed on that score, adding to the confusion. I’ve listed which version I chose, but not how I chose it.
A few handy resources though:
- BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library has a downloadable PDF/DOC file of their recommendations for a large number of works.
- The Guardian’s Building a classical library series is a lot shorter but was occasionally useful.
- AllMusic and MusicWeb International were both useful for trying to work out metadata, dates of performance, etc.
The playlist itself is not something you’d want to listen through from start to finish, and individual tracks are swamped by the occasional opera. But you might find a few things you want to pick out to try. Below is the full listing, split up into parts according to the three TV episodes. Tracks are in the order they were captioned on the show. The rare omissions on Spotify are listed at the end. I’ve linked to Wikipedia for more information on works where possible (failing that, the composer).
(Abbreviations… So: Symphony Orchestra; Po: Philharmonic Orchestra.)
- Richard Strauss – Salome (1905) (Solti, Wiener Po, 1961)
- Claude Debussy – Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894) (Dutoit, Montreal So, ?)
- Arnold Schoenberg – Three Piano Pieces (1909) (Barenboim, 1994)
- Arnold Schoenberg – String Quartet No. 2 (1908) (Arditti Quartet, 1993)
- Anton Webern – Six Bagatelles (1913) (Artis Quartett, 1991)
- Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring (1913) (Rattle, CBSO, 1987)
- Igor Stravinsky – The Firebird (1910) (Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra, ?)
- Charles Ives – Three Places in New England (1914) (Sinclair, Orchestra New England, ?)
- Charles Ives – Concord Sonata (1915) (Hamelin, 1988)
- Edgard Varèse – Ameriques (1921/1927) (Boulez, Chicago So, 1995)
- George Gershwin – I Got Rhythm (1930) (Gershwin)
- George Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue (1924) (Previn, London So, 1971)
- Alexander Mosolov – Iron Foundry (1926) (Chailly, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, 1992)
- Dmitri Shostakovich – Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934) (Rostropovich, London Po, 1979)
- Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony No 5 (1937) (Mravinsky, Leningrad Po, 1954?)
- Olivier Messiaen – Quartet for the End of Time (1941) (Turangalîla-Symphonie, 2008)
- Aaron Copland – Rodeo (1942) (Bernstein, NY Po, 1960)
- Aaron Copland – Lincoln Portrait (1942) (Mehta, Gregory Peck, LA Po, 1969-86?)
- Aaron Copland – Billy the Kid (1938) (Bernstein, NY Po, 1960)
- Pierre Boulez – Second Piano Sonata (1948) (Pollini, 1972)
- Pierre Boulez – Le Marteau San Maître (1955) (Boulez, Summers, Ensemble InterContemporain, 2005)
- Karlheinz Stockhausen – Gesang der Jünglinge (1956)
- Iannis Xenakis – Eonta (1964) (Takahashi, 2010)
- Iannis Xenakis – Metastaseis (1954) (Rosbaud, SWF So, 1955)
- Luigi Nono – Il canto sospeso (1956) (?)
- Györgi Ligeti – Chamber Concerto, for 13 instruments (1970)1 (de Leeuw, Schoenberg Ensemble, 2000)
- Györgi Ligeti – Requiem (1965) (Nott, Schoenberg Ensemble, London Voices, 2002)
- Harrison Birtwistle – Tragoedia (1965) (Boulez, Ensemble Intercontemporain, 1993)
- Harrison Birtwistle – Punch and Judy (1967) (Atherton, London Sinfonietta, 1979)
- Peter Maxwell Davies – Revelation and Fall (1966) (Davies, Pierrot Players, 1966)
- John Cage – 4′33″ (1952)
- John Cage – Music of Changes (1951) (Joste, 2003)
- Morton Feldman – Four Instruments (1965) (Ensemble Avantgarde, 1995)
- Morton Feldman – Piano Piece (to Philip Guston) (1963) (Takahashi, 1996)
- Morton Feldman – Rothko Chapel (1970) (New Albion release, 1991)
- Terry Riley – In C (1964) (Riley, Center of Creative and Performing Arts, 1968)
- John Coltrane – Vigil (1965) (on Kulu Sé Mama)
- Steve Reich – Four Organs (1970) (Reich, Glass, Chambers, Murphy, Gibson, 1974)
- Philip Glass – Einstein on the Beach (1975) (Philip Glass Ensemble, 1976)
- Steve Reich – Drumming (1971) (Reich et al, 1974)
- Philip Glass – Music in Similar Motion (1969) (Alter Ego, 2002)
- Arvo Pärt – Für Alina (1976) (Alexei Lubimov, ?)
- Arvo Pärt – Tabula Rasa (1977) (Shaham, Järvi, Göteborgs Symfoniker, ?)
- Arvo Pärt – Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) (Little, Roscoe, 1993)
- John Tavener – The Protecting Veil (1988) (Rozhdestvensky, Isserlis, London So, 1991)
- John Tavener – Song for Athene (1993) (Robinson, St John’s College Choir, ?)
- George Benjamin – Antara (1987) (Benjamin, London Sinfonietta, 1989)
- George Benjamin – At First Light (1982) (Benjamin, London Sinfonietta, 1986)
- John Adams – Grand Pianola Music (1982) (Adams, London Sinfonietta, 1993)
- John Adams – Nixon in China (1987) (Alsop, Colorado So, 2008)
- John Adams – Harmonielehre (1985) (Thomas, San Franicsco So, 2010)
- On screen this was captioned as “Chamber Concerto for 15 Instruments”. Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto is for 13 instruments, but his Lontano is for 15.
Not on Spotify: